Re-enactment and Wikipedia

I think historical re-enactment serves a purpose to attract crowds to historical places to put them, if only for a few moments, into the era they are learning and exploring. I remember watching a civil war union soldier demonstrate the different positions and instructions in rank and file movements at Fort Pulaski and other civil war forts around the south. Castile de San Marcos did a Spanish canon firing demonstration at the Castile every hour all in Spanish. These presentations were done by Park Service Interpretive Rangers, which had knowledge and history of the areas. Do I think that regular people who decide to do re-enactments are not qualified to do them? No. I think some of them really believe that it gives them a purpose in life and they take it to the next level by actually living the life style as authentically as possible. Re-enactment to me is no different than people who go to comic con dressing up to be their favorite super hero. I do think there is some differences in dressing up and re-enacting a historical event over a dressing up and being a super hero. But in the end, you are dressing up and pretending to be something you’re not, which allows people to escape their boring day jobs and do something they feel passionate about. Nick Kowalczyk article about being embedded with re-enactors says it best: “Like drag shows, re-enactments hinge on sartorial panache. If a man’s otherwise period-correct outfit includes modern-day buttons or eyeglasses, it might as well have come from K-mart.”[1] I feel that re-enactment is a worthy sub culture that does serve a purpose in some regards as long as it is historically correct.

The Historiann article did bring up good points on Nick’s article in regards to if as a United States citizen, you want to get the full idea of battle and war why not join in the battles in Iraq and Afghanistan? This article also brings a good point on race that white people seem to want to relive the past more than other races. “Perhaps this is what makes me uncomfortable about reenactors—their interest in reenacting violent events (warfare, principally) which from the first Anglo-Indian wars of the seventeenth century through our modern wars, were either explicitly racialized wars (most Anglo-Indian wars, he Mexican War, and the wars waged by the Frontier Army against Native Americans) or wars that mobilized ethnic difference and white racism in the war effort (as in World War II and the war with Japan, the Vietnam War, and Iraq and Afghanistan).” [2] I have never thought about this perspective before but it does make sense when it comes to reenactments that it is mostly a white thing.

The Wikipedia articles made me think and ponder why women would be more hesitant to contribute to an online forum their opinions? I know and have been influenced, even had my views changed, by many talented and intelligent women in my life. Then I thought back to the conversations we all have had in this class and things I have read and heard on National Public Radio (NPR). Women get harassed online and in society by men who for reason or another can’t allow women to share their opinions and knowledge through different online resources. To see first-hand how women are treated in other countries I have been to, then to come home and see that through the internet and social media this is happening in the United States angers me.

[1] Kowalczyk, Nick. “Embedded with the reenactors.” Salon. Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012.

[2] “The Limited (and queer?) vision of American historical reenacting.” Historiann. January 9, 2012.

Seems That White Male Privilege Is Alive And Well

I began this blog by thinking of reenactors as people unable to cope with modern-day realities. Then I have an “aha!” moment where I came to see reenactors in the context of those who believe that old buildings are better and more important than new buildings. For me, saving old buildings of historical significance makes sense, but not reenacting. Why? I’m dodging the answer for lack of space, but it is worth exploring.

Reenactors seem to long for a world where their white-male privilege remains intact and where they can equate themselves to people they believe are tougher and untainted by modernity. Kowalczyk and Historiann reinforce this idea when they say reenacting is, “more widespread among white men…Romanticizing the past is a White thing.” While Kowalczyk’s Old Hickory and Captain Titus may be the most extreme examples, they are separated from most reenactors only by degrees.  In the few examples given of women participating, their roles seem to reinforce this image of white-male dominance.

Civil War Reenactments -- Anderson Scott's Photos In 'Whistling Dixie'
Anderson Scott’s Photos of Civil War Reenactments from ‘Whistling Dixie’

Dominant white-males appear to be central to Levin’s article about the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The article also highlights the ambivalence to these re-enactments as fewer reenactors and spectators seem to indicate a backlash against this view of history. Levin notes this may be true, if for no other reason than, “What we do know is that the SCV has done everything in its power over the past few years to alienate reasonable people.” It seems clear that these folks want a whitewashed history so as to maintain their sense of superiority and purity. Dillon Ruth is a reflection of their problem.

I was both disturbed and encouraged by the efforts to make Wikipedia more accurate. The efforts to curate articles were encouraging, but the weighting of articles seems to slow down updating articles with the latest scholarship, as noted in Messer-Kruse’s piece. However, I do feel that Famiglietti made a good case for the current system, which constantly reviews ways to improve. The lack of diversity among content and content-authors is depressing. In this community, I thought there would be more acceptance of women and female-centered content. It would be interesting to know, is this a gender issue or is minority-related content and minority generate content also under-represented? If yes, all of us have work to do.

Playing at war

“Embedded with the reenactors” stirred some strong feelings for me. As I’ve said before, I love Old Fort Niagra. Reading Kolwalczyk’s description took me back. Which is why I think reenacting is popular with certain people, a yearning for something that might be missing in their lives at that moment. That’s not to say that everyone who reenacts is missing something in their lives, but the way the “hobby” is portrayed, that’s what it looks like from over here.
Regarding wearing Confederate grey, I think less people wear it these days because no one wants to play on the loosing team. But all joking aside, that article illustrated some of the reasons reenacting is popular with an older whiter crowd. They came of age in the ’60s, when there were three television channels, and nothing much else to do besides play outside. And what better to do than rehash the days of “Cowboys and Indians”, or the Rough Riders up San Juan hill, or Pickett’s charge.
But to me, reenacting, as it is presented in Kolwalczyk’s article, is worshiping at the altar of toxic masculinity. Having just read Kolwalczyk’s piece that Ann Little recommends, I think he might believe it too. And perhaps that’s why there aren’t reenactments of suffragettes. And maybe the wounds are still too fresh to have reenactments of the civil rights struggle, especially in the wake of current “situations”. Reenactments “thumb their noses” at the losers, which is why French-Canadians try to disrupt the reenactment of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, and Northern Irish Catholics get so incensed when Northern Irish Protestants march through their neighborhoods on the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne.
With regards to Wikipedia, I have no words. It is an online encyclopedia, and given the way it is set up there has to be some kind of regulation. But credentials should count for something.

History Done by Non-historians

These articles bring up some good points on how to think about history done from non-historians.  Where do we draw the line on scholarly authority?  Are sound resources the key in the debate?  I feel like I change my mind on that subject weekly and do not ever have a concrete opinion on the matter.

With reenacting, I appreciate that on any one battlefield you can have casual enthusiasts who are just there to have fun mixed in with the hard-cores who are particularly proud of their authenticity and dedication.  As brought up in “The Limited (and Queer?) Vision of American Historical Reenacting”, much of this reenacting is done by older, white men romanticizing the past.  It makes me wonder how many men don their reenactor roles to “escape” into a hyper-masculine world against a changing society that may seem “threatening” to them.  I’m sure many are passionate about history, but to some maybe only in a way that maintains white patriarchy.  The few articles referencing reenacting made me think of the book that some of us read last semester titled Confederates in the Attic, which addressed the undying nature of the “War of Northern Aggression” to Southerners.  To many, reenacting connected them to their heritage and a simpler, better time.  The Civil War refuses to die because the war is still so personal.  This book was published in 1998, so I’m wondering if between 1998 and 2012, perhaps the Civil War mania began to lessen as “Why Doesn’t Anyone Think It’s Cool to Dress up like a Confederate Soldier Anymore?” suggests with dwindling attendance at Sons of Confederate Veterans events.

Another side note on “The Limited (and Queer?) Vision of American Historical Reenacting”, a remark was made that maybe in the future we will see women and minorities reenact struggles and confrontations in the future.  This comment reminded me of people who had dressed up to participate in the Women’s March in January.  Particularly, I thought of a few women I saw dressed up at Victorian Suffragettes.  I do not know if those women would consider themselves reenactors, but I thought it was a step in the direction that the articles was talking about, and an example of connecting yourself to history to prove a point.


Regarding Wikipedia, all of the information was new to me, feeding into the statistic that women are not as active contributing as men.  Since I have never tried to edit an article, I did not know the content and source guidelines.  It does make me feel better about getting quick facts and an overview since there are guidelines in place to deter internet trolls, but I can understand Messer-Kruse’s frustrations.  Being an expert in your field and then told that you do not have the right kind of sources to edit a Wikipedia article would drive anyone crazy.

enticing people to keep history

Although I am aware that historical preservation costs money, I found that much of second half of the book was an attempt to give historians a financial argument as to why it could behoove someone. That being said, I find it ridiculous that people not only want, but actually expect a financial gain as a reason not to destroy historical buildings. Even my favorite part of the second half of the book, Revitalizing Downtown, felt littered with facts like “The Main Street Center recently tabulated that the program led to the rehabilitation of 60,000 buildings (instant happy thought for me, over 174,000 jobs, and to $35 for every $1 spent.” (174) Why do we still look at our collective history in dollars and cents rather than with just sense?

Page 201 clearly shows a list of an entire budget of a project, including tax benefits of doing such a rehab. To me, if you don’t want to live in a historic district ( or own a business in one), then by all means do not. If you do, I feel it ridiculous that it takes an entire spreadsheet of cost accounting to help someone determine…. what exactly? Whether or not or history has value?

The other thought that consistently came up for me was that, what about areas that are historic to a certain group of people but are overlooked by others? With the idea of a commission in charge of what is historical and what is not, what about places like Garden City, known for its beautiful gardens…. that were built and maintained by the Chinese who, as second class citizens of their time, have conveniently been written out of that narrative? Those that have power are the only ones that seemingly can tell us what has history and what does not. Only fairly recently has history started to put into the narrative the significance of many race, class, and gender in the building of America. With this in mind I would hate to lose the history of these other disenfranchised groups simply because they were disenfranchised.73-106-5_garden_city_panorama

Garden City was known for its Chinese gardens. Strawberries and onions were just some of the vegetables grown on the land.
Credit Idaho State Historical Society, Photo 73-106-5 (taken from on 3/13/2017)

Historic preservation links for March 13 class

For your future reference, in case you’re interested:

Part II is Worth Reading

As I noted in my previous posts regarding Historic Preservation, I do have some concerns with the broadening definitions of what historically important and about what constitutes “taking.” However, I do not intend to rehash my concerns here. I found the second half of Historic Preservation to be full of useful content on the legal and technical aspects of historic preservation. I appreciated the information about conservation and the four types of intervention, (preservation, restoration, reconstruction, and rehabilitation) and found the text to be an illuminating and thorough-going treatment of these subjects. Conservators in the field have done remarkable research and provided guidelines and solutions for each type of intervention. The Secretary of the Interior standards frequently referred to in the text appeared to be pretty thorough and reviewing the standards on the National Park Service website confirmed that fact.

While I have little interest in being a conservator, I was intrigued by

Sanbron Fire Insurance Map, District of Columbia
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, District of Columbia (1888)

all that was contained in the “Research and Documentation of Historic Properties” section of Historic Preservation.  I love the description, “Researching historic properties is both a craft and art. The craft is in piecing together information on a property from disparate sources; the art is in its interpretation.”[1] I believe that researching the history of a building or district sounds fascinating.

In exploring the National Park Service website I decided to look at two obscure Civil War-era battles, the Bear Creek Massacre in Franklin County, Idaho and the Battle of Ball’s Bluff in Virginia.  The first was listed by the Civil War Advisory Commission as a site worthy of protection in 1990. Beyond some limited use of the site for interpretation by Shoshone tribal members and a wayside signs, little has been done beyond at the site.  That is why I found the Update to the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Report on the Nation’s Civil War Battlefields, Far Western Battlefields: States of Colorado, Idaho, and New Mexico of particular interest. The “Update”, published in 2010, provided a lot of information about what has or has not been done relative to the site, as well as what steps need to be taken to further protect the site.

Ball’s Bluff a relatively well-developed park, but is a little less impressive with regard to NPS provided information. The only readily available NPS document was a one page report by the Civil War Sites Advisory Committee. This dearth of information is offset by a wealth of information provided by other sources, in particular NOVA Parks, an inter-jurisdictional organization in Northern Virgina.

[1] Norman Tyler, Ted J. Ligibel and Ilene R. Tyler, Historic Preservation: An Introduction to Its History, Principles, and Practice, (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2009), 202.

More Historic Preservation

It is interesting to me that there are so many steps to establishing a building’s significance before it can be preserved. It is good that the community seems to be very involved in the selection and preservation process, since the building is likely to be something they have to look at every day. It does concern me that so few communities seem invested in which areas of their cities are preserved. I feel like the people might be more invested in preserving the heritage of an area if they felt more connected to its history.

I feel like architectural preservation efforts are important, even if I will never be able to recognize a classic example of the colonial style on sight. I think it is good that more emphasis on preserving ‘recent’ historical places, such those built in the sixties and seventies, as rapid urban growth tends to destroy those places before they’ve hit the magic fifty-years-old mark. I suppose I had not considered that the architectural style of a building would contribute in some way to the history of a community, but I am glad that there are people who take an interest in such things. Old buildings are some of the most intriguing locations on city tours and if historic districts rely on tourism, then preserving as many as possible would be very beneficial to them. It does concern me that so many of the criteria for preservation are highly subjective.

Of equal concern is the possibility that companies might bully city planners into approving poor construction project plans with the threat of litigation. I am fully aware that such corporate goons are out there, but it makes me angry to think about what archaeological material may have been lost through intimidation and a lack of resources that small communities can use to protect themselves. More and more it is apparent that history and community significance consistently loses out to greed and self-interest, and what a pity that is.


One person’s significant place is another person’s headache

How do we decide the significance of a place? I mean, I know how we do it – the book told me. There’s a thermometer. But after we’ve saved 10 significant homes, how do we decide whether or not to save the 11th? What if it’s just as architecturally beautiful? What if it’s just as historically significant to the neighborhood? What if great-grandma’s uncle’s first born son once lived there? TL;DR: I’m having a hard time grasping the line between “worth saving,” and “we’ve saved enough.”

There’s this horrible Facebook group that my dad keeps adding me to (and I keep deleting) that attempts to celebrate the “history” of Boise. Sometimes it’s somewhat interesting (though largely unsourced), but it seems like the majority of posts that I see are made by old fogeys wondering where the old KMart used to be and bemoaning the loss of history every time the city knocks down an office building from the 70s. They’re all that I could think of when I read this book. I know they don’t make the call when it comes to preservation, but they get awfully upset about it, and I can’t help but wonder if that’s what some of these committee meetings might sound like.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m 110% in favor of saving and preserving historic buildings and places, but it has to be done right. When I went to New Orleans a few years ago, I wanted to spend all of my time in the Vieux Carré district, soaking up the history and culture. After a long afternoon of wandering, I became aware of the fact that the French Quarter is a money pit. Yes – it’s beautiful, but it’s only kept beautiful for the tourists, and I’m glad the book touched on this, and places like it. The French façades only hide t-shirt shops, tacky ghost stories, and ridiculously expensive drinks. Venturing outside of the Quarter is where you’ll meet the people who know the city’s real history. Unfortunately, I can’t imagine a world in which historic preservation isn’t largely used for capitalist interests, so I guess I’m glad that they’re being saved at all, whatever the ulterior motive may be…

Historic Preservation Part 2

I found the reading in Historic Preservation Part 2 to be enlightening and educational, especially in regards to laws and legal cases that have dealt with historic preservation. The discussion between preserving historical information and architecture focuses on the “historic significance,” a term “used to describe a property’s relative importance . . .” (Tyler, Ligibel, Tyler, 135).  
Much of Part two deals with the legalities surrounding preservation and begins by saying, “The legal framework for historic preservation is largely based on land use law, with the traditional premise that property owners should have the right to do as they wish with their property.” (121) One significant case in 1926, Euclid v. Ambler Realty Company decided in favor of protective zoning and “overrides the interests of individual property owners,” which changed the tone for future preservation decisions and a change in the way of thinking.  Other court cases have decided whether or not land should be preserved for future historic value, such as the decision of Penn Central.  It is considered to be historic preservation’s “most important legal precedent.”  It was decided in 1978 and it prevented a monstrous 55 story addition to the iconic landmark, Grand Central Station in New York city.  This decision by the U.S. Supreme Court made guidelines for how historic sites are preserved and gave legitimacy to cities and governments that preservation is a “governmental goal.” (126)

Historic significance is the term best used throughout part two, as it provides the value of the conservative nature of the remaining book chapters. A structure’s significance is based on two primary factors: historical or cultural importance and architectural value.” (135) Categorizing these factors about a site’s importance can help us evaluate in terms of historic value and, most important, the integrity . Part of the evaluation, according to the National Registry, involves these seven factors: “Location, Design, Setting, Materials, Workmanship, Feeling and Association.” (138) Certainly in evaluating historical significance, there are so many aspects that can contribute to a site and certain aspects can either add or detract from the evaluation.  If a home is original, for example, or if it has undergone remodeling that is not true to its history.  Events like relocation of a home can be a negative because the setting may have been of importance and, the prominence of the family that built the home or lived in it for a significant time can be a factor.  Certainly the architect is an important factor and age, with a “commonly accepted, and government-supported, criterion for historic significance is  . . . at least fifty years old.” (140)  As a historian, one of the most interesting categories is National Historic Landmarks, which are a “special category of designed historic structures and properties with exceptional value or quality.” (150)  These are places that are of importance to all Americans and one of the most famous is Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley, and also includes Mount Vernon, Pearl Harbor and Alcatraz Island.  

The establishment of historic districts is very important in preserving the history and character of certain parts of cities and towns.  The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 gave governments the “power to create regulatory historic districts.” (155)  It provided for the protection of properties of historic value but it also serves as a protection for the wrecking ball of redevelopment.  It promotes people preserving wonderful homes and buildings and helps to improve property values for entire areas, oftentimes inner city locations.  For example, I live near the historic district of the North End in Boise and enjoy the architecture of historic homes and businesses.  Buildings downtown such as the fire station on 6th street built in 1902 now houses a nice restaurant after serving the people of Boise. Member of the Idaho Historical Society cleans the bell inside the building weekly. It is because of the dedication of people like them that many of Boise’s historical buildings remain for us to see.